Chapter 3: People, How to get there

Dear CultureShocker,

Kapow! Here’s the final part of Chapter 3 on People.

The aim of this chapter is to provide practical next steps for you and me, the prospective company-changers.

How well does it do that? Lemme know.



So how can you evolve how your organisation interacts with its people?

Here are the four powerful practices suggested:

1. Creating strong values & principles
2. Celebrating personality
3. Enabling people development
4. Establishing freedom and trust

1. Creating strong values & principles

Having spent time studying companies that absolutely nail the People bit, it is clear that one characteristic that they all share is the clarity and belief around their values.

At the WorldBlu Live conference speaker after speaker from visionary companies outlined their crystal clear values, and what really comes through from organisations like Zappos and Gore are the values that are woven throughout the hold organisation: from ‘Create Fun and a little Weirdness’ at Zappos to ‘The ability to make one’s own commitments and keep them’ at Gore.

So what are the values that you want to imbue your team with? Or, better, what are the values that you together are willing to stand by, to hold one another account against and to really strive for in your work?

2. Celebrating personality

In the 20th century, being professional and being yourself were seen as different things. Being professional was not only about delivering against promised made and to a high quality, about being trustworthy. It was about being neutral (like the colour of old school beige desktop PCs!) and in doing so acting within some powerful puritan norms – a little polite laughter, no rough language (at least not at first) and definitely no weirdness. As for emotions, a professional didn’t show ‘em.

In the 21st century, when the alternatives to the job are a freelance careers, where the alternative to working in an office is working from home or in a co-working space, and in a century where people are realising that there’s more to life than work alone, these notions of professionalism are shifting. Hurrah for a return to personality!

What is clear about these progressive businesses that celebrate people is that they welcome and value personality, authenticity, emotion and humour.

This poses new challenges for us all. At our company we know it usually takes a new team member 6 months to really become themselves at work. And it poses challenges to you as a leader, whichever level you lead from. You must lead. You must be authentic, you must celebrate your own real self at work, and make it OK for others to do the same. Easy to say, difficult to do: particularly on bad days.

Sow can you start doing this tomorrow? How can you be more ‘you’ and encourage others to do the same? At scale, how will you institutionalise that? What practices will help it happen?

3. Enabling people development

In this chapter there is an underlying constant which is about enabling people to improve themselves. It is not enforced, and it is not only the slightly twee ‘personal development’ that you can find on your bookshop’s shelves under the title of PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT, but it is an ethos of allowing and enabling the organisation’s people to develop themselves both in their professional and especially in their personal aspects.

4. Establishing freedom & trust!

Perhaps the biggest ideas that 21st century organisations embrace are those of Freedom and Trust. BOOM. Big words, and kinda the diametrical opposite to the established cultures of most businesses. But isn’t that what we demand and expect today?

In Dan Pink’s fantastic TED talk he talks about the three aspects of motivating people as being Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. We’ve looked at how the three businesses in this chapter each extend significant trust and freedom to their people, and reap the rewards.

I guess the question for you is what can you do with freedom and trust in your organisation? Because they feel like the backdrop for and the shortcuts to this whole chapter. It’s what it all boils down to. Are you going to actually let them – the people – deliver great things?  And who – in your organisation – might not, and why not?

Acknowledging challenges

Before finishing this chapter, it would be remiss not to look some of the challenges around people in the contemporary organisation. There are three that we look at here:


Competition between peers does not necessarily lessen in a more enlightened business culture. In fact, my current belief is that it may heighten.

By opening things up, with greater transparency, less official hierarchy and a culture and practices which create much more feedback inside the organisation, it is possible that a quite ferocious meritocracy is created. ‘Great’, you may cheer! That may be so, but I believe I am working in such a place and dealing with some of the consequences of an environment where there is both an incredibly strong team ethic AND very high competition between peers. That is not easy. And for the team members themselves it can feel very stressful (and very motivating) to be part of an organisation where there is a relentless drive towards performance, with few places to hide.

Hearing Gore CEO Terri Kelly talking about how every Gore Associate (herself included) is ranked by their peers I cannot help thinking that one of the consequences of some of these ‘better’ people practices may be a tilt towards at times unhealthy competition which will need monitoring and counter-balancing.

This is worth looking out for, particularly when team members may be going through a life event or a phase in their life or career that does not naturally thrive in this environment.

Drowning in freedom and honesty

A related issue can be that in an organisation where there is greater fluidity, less definition around roles, less directive people management and a greater emphasis on feedback is that team members can end up becoming overwhelmed.

When there is little structure to hang on to, many opportunities to engage with and a high performing team to fit into, a new employee may end up drowning and become overwhelmed by the lack of structure and huge possibilities that exist.

Similarly, a new team member at NixonMcInnes described the environment as ‘like having the honesty volume turned up’. That can be tough to deal with at first if a person has become accustomed to a less honest, less authentic approach to communication and management information in a different organisation.

Some people want a 20th century job

Finally, perhaps some people will want a 20th century job. Maybe they do want to just do what they came in to do, to do the same thing for years, to know little about how they or the organisation is doing, and maybe that is OK. These kind of people – and they may even be you – do not want to sit around in a circle talking about their feelings, they do not want some kind of airy-fairy coaching from a ‘sponsor’ – they want a boss, and they want to be told what to do.

Recognising this fact is crucial. When the fit is not right, try to spot it early on – the signs will usually be there. In an environment where the individual cannot thrive, they cannot be really happy and they will sap your efforts. Be clear, and be sure to follow through swiftly – not everybody is ready for your enlightened ways! It’s better for them and for you if you recognise and act on that.


People are the lifeblood of any business. In this chapter, we have spent some time thinking about what it is that contemporary organisations do with their people to create real advantages. And there are many more practices available than those we have been able to cover in this book.

Fundamentally, what it boils down to is beliefs. If you believe that people are the first, the last, and the everything, then you can write your own chapter for your organisation, your business, your team.

People say that we are in a talent war, and that in business the best team wins. If that is true, then taking these next steps is the difference between whooping ass and being left behind. I know where I’d rather be.

How was that? Please provide feedback: via comments on this post, via email to, tweets @willmcinnes #cltrshck (no vowels, we’re crazy like that).

The next chapter is on Leadership – often written about, often talked about, yet still so much to do… 🙂

Thank you for your support. Have a nice day. Do come again.

One thought on “Chapter 3: People, How to get there

  1. Good section Will.

    I especially like the bit on drowning in freedom and honesty. Could almost be a book in itself. Perhaps worth expanding? It felt a little as if you offered a interesting taster and then backed away from it.

    I think there is some room in hear to talk about “compassion” or something like it. Or maybe another way to see it – people are not their roles. People are not their skills and abilities. People are not even their values.

    Finally, I disagree with your last point – that some people want a boss. I don’t think anyone wants a boss.

    It is important in my view not to confuse bosses with leaders – but maybe that is what you will cover in the next section?


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